It was the second week of the 2001 NFL season, delayed to Sunday, September 23 due to the tragic events less than two weeks prior, and the Patriots were hoping to avoid falling to 0-2 on the year.
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe dropped back to pass, surveying the field. Finding no open receivers and facing a collapsing pocket, Bledsoe darted right, scrambling down the sideline. Bledsoe approached the first down line to gain, but Jets linebacker Mo Lewis met the quarterback with force just in front of the marker. As Lewis barreled towards his target and Bledsoe pushed towards the first down, not a single person witnessing the play could have possibly foreseen the massive chain reaction it would cause. The collision between the two men would change the NFL forever.
The linebacker’s bruising hit knocked Bledsoe out of the game, and the Patriots sent in its relatively unknown backup, the previous season’s sixth-round, 199th overall draft pick out of Michigan, Tom Brady.
The Patriots would not win the game, but the team went on to win many, many more under Brady’s leadership. Every die hard New England sports fan knows the rest of the story from 2001: Brady unexpectedly led the team on a deep playoff run, taking home the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory with a 20-17 win over the then-St. Louis Rams.
On the eve of the next Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the now-Los Angeles Rams, sports media outlets across the country are rehashing the heroic storylines of the 2001 season.
But what of the man who launched the career that brought eleven AFC titles and five—possibly soon-to-be six—Super Bowl rings to New England? For former Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, his future would revolve around the basketball court with his sons and a current Harvard connection.
Junior forward Chris Lewis, drawn to the court rather than the football field like his older brother Mo IV, who played at the United States Naval Academy, has been an impressive force for Harvard Basketball since his arrival in Cambridge. The six-foot-nine Computer Science concentrator in Eliot House chose Harvard over multiple impressive suitors during the recruiting process, as the highly coveted prospect was ranked 68th in the ESPN Top 100 for the Class of 2020.
Lewis valued both identifiers in his role as a student-athlete, even touring the Massachusetts Institute of Technology down the Charles River from his current home on campus. Roughly 30 miles from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Lewis has settled a stone’s throw from the home of Brady’s illustrious career and deep into the heart of Patriots’ country. His father’s Jets squad is not the most popular team in the area, to say the least.
Long before Chris, Mo Lewis enjoyed 13 years in the NFL, all with the Jets. The fan-favorite for Gang Green played an even 200 games for the Jets, recording an impressive 1,231 tackles, 52.5 sacks, and 14 interceptions en route to two All-Pro and three Pro Bowl selections.
Although his tenure was wildly popular among Jets supporters, perhaps the most affected fanbase lives in New England, where Patriots faithful have enjoyed a sports dynasty the likes of which the NFL has never seen. Even the most ardent Patriot-haters cannot deny the impressiveness of Brady and company’s current run.
Perhaps the only silver lining for the growing contingent of restless football fans hoping for different champions—even if I would settle for a new Colts dynasty—is that Brady’s career is in its twilight. New England is quick to dispute this fact, claiming its quarterback is ageless and his tank bottomless.
While Brady seems to defy his age, my fellow supporters that have seen countless AFC playoff dreams crushed by the 41-year-old hope that the possible full-circle nature of a Super Bowl pitting the Patriots against the Rams is a sign that life without Brady may soon arrive.
This chain of events was started when the first domino fell as it was met with a crushing hit from proud Harvard father Mo Lewis. While I wish Marlon Jackson’s interception in the 2007 AFC Championship Game had the same significance, the shock of Lewis’ hit reverberated throughout the NFL and changed the game for good.
As the Patriots and Rams face off again, the legacy of that fateful tackle will surely be remembered and referenced many times. While this was a lasting impact for New England sports, Lewis would surely hold that part of his most significant living legacy in the area resides on the Harvard basketball team, through his son Chris.